7 Categories of Idioms with Meaning and Examples

Idioms Meaning Examples Categories Eduhyme English learning Grammar

Learning English isn’t as easy as some might think. First, grammar muddies the waters, and idiomatic expressions only add fuel to the fire. Native English speakers love using them in conversation, and you’ll often find them popping up in books, TV shows and movies too.

To perfect your English, you really need to become confident in using idioms and knowing the difference between breaking a leg and pulling someone’s leg.

  1. Animal Idioms
  2. Body Idioms
  3. Colour Idioms
  4. Clothing Idioms
  5. Food Idioms
  6. Geography Idioms
  7. Sports Idioms

1. Animal Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on animals. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence.

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
ants in one’s pants unable to sit still or remain calm out of nervousness or excitement Lisa had ants in her pants the day before her interview.
(the) birds and the bees sex education I learned about the birds and the bees when my baby brother was born.
cat nap a short sleep I’m going to have a cat nap while you’re cooking dinner.
cat’s got one’s tongue said about someone who doesn’t speak (usually due to shyness) It looks like the cat’s got your tongue, Lucy. Are you always this quiet?
chicken out to decide not to do something out of fear (usually just before) I was going to take a ride on Geoff’s motorcycle, but I chickened out when he gave me a helmet to wear.
clam up become quiet suddenly Arthur clammed up when I asked him about his family.
copy cat a person who does the same thing as someone else My sister is such a copy cat. First she bought the same car as me, and now she’s applying to my school.
dog days very hot days I sleep in the basement during the dog days of August.
dropping like flies dying/giving up quickly My roses are dropping like flies in this early frost.
eager beaver a person who is excited about doing certain work Ever since he got his new drill set my husband has been an eager beaver around the house.
Fishy odd, suspicious I knew something fishy was going on when I saw all of my friends’ cars in my mom’s driveway.
have a cow get extremely upset (often over something minor) My teacher had a cow when she realized nobody had done the homework.
hold your horses wait and be patient Hold your horses! I’ll be done in the washroom in a minute.
holy cow! Wow, I’m surprised! Holy cow! I can’t believe you ate everything on your plate.
horse around play roughly If you’re going to horse around, please go outside.
get the lion’s share get the greatest percentage My aunt got the lion’s share of the inheritance.
in the dog house in trouble with another person I don’t think Marsha is coming out tonight. She’s still in the dog house for forgetting Aaron’s birthday.
kill two birds with one stone get two things done at once If you pick the groceries up when you drop George off for his shift, you will kill two birds with one stone.
kitty corner diagonal direction The gas station is kitty corner to the library.
let the cat out of the bag reveal a secret Who let the cat out of the bag about the surprise party?
(a) little bird told me I heard something (usually secretive or unknown) from someone (not named) A little bird told me that you are thinking of quitting your job.
make a beeline go straight for something My grandma made a beeline for the smoking room as soon as she got off the airplane.
monkey see, monkey do silly/unintelligent people tend to copy each other’s actions Our one-year-old is saying bad words now. I told my husband, “Monkey see, monkey do!”
nest egg money saved for the future We have a nest egg that we might have to use if Jim goes on sick leave.
pig out eat a lot of something I pigged out on pancakes so I don’t have room for lunch.
raining cats and dogs raining heavily I forgot my umbrella, and it was raining cats and dogs.
rat race fierce, competitive struggle for power, position etc I’m ready to leave this rat race and retire in Mexico.
smell a rat begin to suspect trickery etc I asked my brothers not to tell my parents that I went out, but I could smell a rat as soon as I opened the door.
straight from the horse’s mouth directly from the original source I know Jenny is pregnant, because I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
take the bull by the horns face a challenge or danger boldly If you really think you deserve a promotion, you’ll have to take the bull by the horns.
until the cows come home for a very long time I could eat pizza and icecream until the cows come home.

2. Body Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on the human body. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence.

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
all ears fully listening Give me a minute to finish my work and then I’ll be all ears to hear about your project.
break a leg good-luck Today’s the big game, eh? Break a leg
cold feet nervous just before a big event My sister didn’t get cold feet until she put her wedding gown on.
cost an arm and a leg be very expensive These cakes are delicious, but they cost an arm and a leg.
cry your heart out cry very hard I cried my heart out when my best friend moved away.
face the music meet, stand up to unpleasant consequences, for example criticism or punishment I stayed out all night. When I eventually got home I had to face the music from my wife.
(my) flesh and blood Relative I have to hire Mia. She’s my own flesh and blood.
Get tell someone your Thanks for listening to
something off one’s chest Problems me complain about my boss. I just needed to get this off my chest.
give a hand, lend a hand help (someone) do something I can give you a hand when you move if you like
have one’s head in the clouds be unaware or unrealistic about something Amy has her head in the clouds if she thinks she’s going to pass her exams without studying.
head over heels deeply in love My brother is head over heels for his new girlfriend.
head start an earlier start The kids gave Anthony a head start in the bicycle race because he was the youngest.
in over one’s head taking on a task that you can’t handle I was in over my head when I agreed to babysit the triplets and the dogs.
keep an eye on take care of, watch in order to protect I’ll keep an eye on the dinner while you’re on the phone.
keep one’s chin up try to be cheerful Keep your chin up. I’m sure you’ll make some friends soon.
learn by heart, know by heart Memorize I learned my multiplication tables by heart in the year 4.
let one’s hair down relax, have fun Go to the cottage and let your hair down this weekend.
(my) lips are sealed promise to keep a secret Don’t worry, I won’t tell your mother how much you spent. My lips are sealed.
makes my blood boil makes me very angry It makes my blood boil when people don’t tie up their dogs.
neck of the woods nearby location or region I heard that they might be opening a post office in our neck of the woods soon.
(an) old hand an experienced person My uncle’s an old hand at car repair. He’ll know what the problem is.
over my dead body not unless I’m dead and can’t stop you My daughter wants a tattoo. I told her she’d get one over my dead body.
pat on the back recognition or a thank you The party organizers deserve a pat on the back for a job well done.
play something by ear do something without a plan We don’t know if the weather will be good enough for camping. We’ll have to play it by ear.
pull one’s leg joke or tease someone I was just pulling your leg. I’m not really a police officer.
rule of thumb basic rule (not always followed) The rule of thumb is that the students wear black pants and white shirts.
see eye to eye Agree The couple doesn’t see eye to eye on how to train their pets.
(by the) skin of one’s teeth just barely I passed my exam by the skin of my teeth.
stick your neck out help someone a lot, with possible bad consequences for oneself I stuck my neck out for Bessie when she was thrown out of her house.
sweet tooth a love of sugar or sweet things I need three spoonfuls of sugar in my tea. I have a sweet tooth.
thick in the head not very intelligent I’m a bit thick in the head when it comes to reading a map.
wash one’s hands of something stop dealing with an issue or problem I’m washing my hands of Mary’s addiction. She is going to have to get some professional help.

3. Colour Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on colour and colours. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence.

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
beet red dark red (usually to describe face) My sister’s face turned beet red when I caught her singing in front of a mirror
black and blue bruised and beaten We found the poor guy black and blue near the train tracks.
black and white straight forward, very clear The rules we gave the kids were black and white. No answering the phone or the door.
black out Faint I always black out at the sight of blood.
black sheep the odd or bad member of the group My oldest brother was the black sheep in our family. He dropped out of school at fifteen.
born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth born into a rich family Keiko hasn’t worked a day in her life. She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
catch red handed catch someone in the act of doing something wrong or illegal The kids were caught red handed stealing chocolate bars.
golden opportunity                                        the perfect chance The models’ conference was golden opportunity for me to sell my beauty products
grey area, gray area something without a clear rule or answer Writing personal email in the office is a grey area that needs to be discussed at the next meeting.
the green light Permission The builders were given the green light to begin the tower.
green with envy very jealous I am green with envy over Julio’s new wardrobe
(have a) green thumb be skilful in the garden You can tell by her flower garden that Sheila has a green thumb.
have the blues be sad or depressed I always have the blues during the winter time.
in the dark Unaware Antoine left his wife in the dark about their honeymoon destination until they got to the airport.
in the red in debt When we were in the red we almost had to sell the house.
once in a blue very rarely We only go out for
Moon dinner once in a blue moon.
out of the blue Unexpectedly I got a phone call from a long lost cousin out of the blue last week.
red tape official or bureaucratic task There is still some red tape to deal with in terms of the inheritance.
red eye an airplane flight that takes off after midnight I caught the red eye so that I would see the sunrise over the mountains.
roll out the red carpet treat someone like royalty When relatives come to town my grandmother rolls out the red carpet.
rose coloured glasses unrealistic view Paula imagines Hollywood with rose coloured glasses.
see red be very angry I saw red when that guy grabbed my sister’s purse.
tickled pink very pleased and appreciative My mom was tickled pink when my father brought roses home for her.
true colours real self Suzanne doesn’t show her true colours when we have guests over.
white lie an innocent lie to protect another person’s feelings We told Grandma that her cake was delicious, which was actually a white lie.
with flying colours with distinction I passed my road test with flying colours.

 4. Clothing Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on clothes and clothing. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence.

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
at the drop of a hat without needing any advance notice My Grandma will babysit for anyone at the drop of a hat.
(have a) bee in one’s bonnet something that is annoying someone Milan has had a bee in his bonnet all day, but he won’t tell me what’s wrong.
below the belt beyond what is fair or socially acceptable His comment about Manfred’s handicap was below the belt.
bursting at the seams not fitting anymore I ate too much. I’m bursting at the seams in these jeans.
caught with one’s pants down Unprepared My students caught me with my pants down on Monday. I forgot about the field trip.
(have a) card up one’s sleeve have a secret or reserve plan I think Josh has a card up his sleeve because he wants me to wear a dress to the fastfood restaurant.
buckle down work extra hard It’s almost exam time, so I need to buckle down this weekend.
burn a hole in one’s pocket money that one is tempted to spend Let’s go to the mall after school. There’s a hundred dollar bill burning a hole in my pocket.
dress to kill, dress to the nines dress in nice or sexy clothes My cousin was dressed to kill on her birthday.
fit like a glove fit perfectly (tight to one’s body) Anita’s prom dress fits me like a glove.
fine-tooth comb in great detail, extremely carefully The police looked for fingerprints with a fine-tooth comb.
fly by the seat of one’s pants do by instinct, not by plan I had never taught art to kids before. I had to fly by the seat of my pants.
handle with kid gloves treat delicately Please handle my grandmother’s tea set with kid gloves.
hand-medown used clothing We buy hand-medown skates because the kids’ feet grow so quickly.
hat trick three goals scored by one person The fans cheered when the hockey player got a hat trick.
in one’s birthday suit in the nude The swimmers in the lake were in their birthday suits.
keep one’s shirt on try to stay calm I know you’re in a hurry, but please keep your shirt on.
keep something zipped keep something a secret We know we’re having a boy, but we’re keeping it zipped from the grandparents.
off the cuff said without planning I didn’t have a speech prepared. Everything I said was off the cuff.
pull up one’s socks try harder Marco will have to pull up his socks if he wants to make the football team.
put a sock in it stop talking Put a sock in it! I’m trying to tell a story.
put one’s thinking cap on think hard in order to solve a problem I can’t remember where the Christmas decorations are. I’ll have to put my thinking cap on.
put oneself in someone else’s shoes imagine what it would be like to be in someone else’s situation Put yourself in Amber’s shoes. She doesn’t even have a car to drive.
ride one’s coattails let someone else do all of the work It was a group project, but everyone rode Andrew’s coattails.
roll up one’s sleeves get down to hard work The celebrities rolled up their sleeves and washed cars for charity.
take one’s hat off to someone recognize or honour someone for something I take my hat off to Jim. The doctors said he’d never walk, and he just ran a marathon.
wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve display emotions openly My Dad’s not afraid to cry. He always wears his heart on his sleeve.
wear the trousers be in charge, make the rules By the looks of things, the kids wear the trousers in this household.

5. Food Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on food and foods. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence.

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
apple of one’s eye a person that is adored by someone Baby Jessica is the apple of her father’s eye.
(have a) bun in the oven be pregnant I don’t think Jan will come to the bar because she has a bun in the oven.
bad egg a person who is often in trouble I don’t want my little brother hanging around with the bad eggs on the street.
big cheese very important person (VIP) I thought I was just going to interview the secretary, but they let me talk to the big cheese himself.
bread and butter necessities, the main thing Just explain the bread and butter of your report. You don’t have to go into details.
bring home the bacon earn the income My husband has had to bring home the bacon ever since I broke my leg.
butter someone up be extra nice to someone (usually for selfish reasons) We’ll have to butter Angie up before we tell her the news about the broken vase.
(have one’s) cake and eat it too want more than your fair share or need Rick wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be single but he doesn’t want me to date anyone else.
carrot top person with red or orange hair Simon is the first carrot top I’ve ever gone out with.
Cheesy Silly I love reading cheesy romance novels because I don’t have to think.
cool as a cucumber very relaxed I thought I was afraid of flying, but I was cool as a cucumber all the way to England.
cream of the crop the best We hired the cream of the crop to entertain us at the Christmas party.
(don’t) cry over spilled milk get upset over something that has happened and cannot be changed The mirror is broken and we can’t fix it. There’s no need to cry over spilled milk.
cup of joe cup of coffee Let’s stop for a cup of joe before we head to work.
(not my) cup of tea something you enjoy (usually used negatively) Opera isn’t exactly my cup of tea.
egg someone on urge someone to do something The gang tried to egg us on but we didn’t want to fight.
freeze one’s buns off be very cold I froze my buns off at the ice rink.
full of beans have a lot of (silly) energy The kids were full of beans after the circus.
gravy train extremely good pay for minimal work The unionized grocers have been enjoying the gravy train for twenty years.
(have something) handed to someone on a silver platter receive without working for something The professor’s daughter had her college diploma handed to her on a silver platter.
hard nut to crack difficult to understand (often a person) Angelo is a hard nut to crack when something is bothering him like this.
hot potato a controversial or difficult subject Choosing a location for our new store is a hot potato right now.
in a nutshell Simply In a nutshell, I’m having a bad day.
nuts about something, someone like a lot I’m nuts about classical music these days.
out to lunch crazy or mad Harry has been out to lunch ever since he lost his job.
one smart cookie a very intelligent person Your daughter is one smart cookie. She reads much higher than her grade level.
peach fuzz small amount of hair growth Except for a bit of peach fuzz, the baby came out bald.
piece of cake very easy The exam was a piece of cake.
put all of one’s eggs in one basket rely on one single thing Even though I’m majoring in Art, I’m taking a maths course because my Dad says I shouldn’t put all of my eggs in one basket.
souped up made more powerful or stylish The car was souped up with shiny rims and a loud stereo.
sell like hot cakes bought by many people The new Harry Potter books sold like hot cakes.
spice things up make something more exciting I wanted to spice things up in the office, so I bought some red and gold paint.
spill the beans reveal the truth On Monday, I’m going to spill the beans about my travel plans.
take something with a pinch (grain) of salt don’t consider something 100% accurate Take Mandy’s advice with a pinch of salt. She doesn’t always do her research.
use your noodle use your brain You’re going to have to really use your noodle on this crossword puzzle. It’s an extra difficult one.

6. Geography Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on geography and weather. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence.

IDIOM MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
(on) cloud nine extremely happy Andrea was on cloud nine when she bought her new car.
dig deep look hard for information I had to dig deep to find my old report cards.
dirt cheap very inexpensive The clothes at the thrift shop are dirt cheap.
down to earth natural or real (personality) Lucile is really down to earth for a woman with so much money.
fair-weather friend a person who is only a friend in good times I can’t talk to Nancy about my boyfriend problems. She’s only a fair-weather friend.
a field day a very enjoyable time The kids had a field day at the water slide park.
go downhill get progressively worse My grades started going downhill when I got a parttime job.
go with the flow continue in the same way as others Nobody trained me at work. I just went with the flow.
hit the hay go to sleep I’m exhausted. I think I’ll hit the hay early tonight.
hit the road Leave It’s getting late. We had better hit the road.
keep one’s head above water have just enough money to live It’s hard to keep my head above water with all of these medical bills.
know which way the wind blows know how things will turn out Who knows which way the wind will blow? I just hope Jesse gets one of the jobs he’s applied for.
make a mountain out of a molehill make a small problem seem big The car only got a tiny dent. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
out of the woods clear of danger The doctor said my heart is doing better, but I’m not out of the woods yet.
over the hill past middle age I knew I was over the hill when I started needing glasses to read.
rain on someone else’s parade ruin somebody else’s happiness Whenever I had a dance recital, my older brother always rained on my parade.
stick-in-themud a loner or person who won’t join in They didn’t bother inviting Charles to the party because he’s always a stick-in-the-mud.
(as) quick as lightning very fast Wow! Your shower was as quick as lightning.
the tip of the iceberg a small part of a large problem The lost tickets were just the tip of the iceberg
take a rain check accept at a later date I’d love to go out for dinner, but can I take a rain check?
under the weather Ill I was feeling under the weather so I went back to bed.
up the creek in trouble If my Dad finds out I had a party I’ll be up the creek.
win by a landslide win by a lot of points The skier in the green coat won by a landslide.
(get) wind of something overhear something about someone or something (often gossip) My Dad has a new girlfriend. I got wind of it over dinner tonight.

7. Sports Idioms

Here are some common idioms based on sport and sports. Each entry includes the meaning of the idiom and shows the idiom in context in an example sentence. Sports idioms generally originate from a specific sport such as baseball or sailing. Over time these phrases have come to mean something that can be used in everyday life.

IDIOM SPORT OF ORIGIN MEANING EXAMPLE SENTENCE
across the board cards equal for everyone Ten percent raises were given across the board.
at this stage in the game any sport at this time Nobody knows who is going to win the election at this stage in the game.
the ball is in your court tennis it’s your decision or responsibility to do something now “Do you think I should accept the job offer?” “Don’t ask me. The ball is in your court now”.
bark up the wrong tree hunting you’ve got the wrong person or idea I think you’re barking up the wrong tree by blaming Matt for the missing money.
blind-sided American football to not see something coming George blind-sided Eric with his fist at the bar.
blow the competition away any sport win easily If you wear that dress to the beauty pageant you are going to blow the competition away.
call the shots billiards make the decisions While our boss is on vacation, Bob will call the shots.
chip in gambling help by donating money or time The staff members chipped in 5 dollars each to buy Jody a birthday gift.
down to the wire horse racing right at the end It’s coming down to the wire to get these done on time.
front runner track one of the people who is expected to win Angela is a front runner for the new supervisor position.
get a head start horse racing start before all others They gave the walkers a head start in the run for cancer.
get into the full swing tennis be comfortable doing something after some time It will probably take a month of working at my new job before I get into the full swing of things.
get off the hook fishing escape, have responsibility removed The child got off the hook for stealing because the security camera was broken.
give something or someone a fair shake gambling try for a while before giving up You should give Nadine a fair shake before you decide she isn’t good enough for the job.
get a second wind have a burst of energy after tiring I was exhausted after 3 kilometres of running, but
Sailing I got a second wind after I passed the beach.
give it your best shot hunting try your hardest Give it your best shot and you may just make it to the finals.
give one a run for one’s money horseracing try one’s hardest to defeat another person I know the other team is expected to win, but let’s give them a run for their money tonight.
go overboard sailing do or say more than you need to You can’t believe everything Janice says about Rick. She tends to go overboard when she’s complaining about him.
go to bat for someone baseball defend someone Andy is asking for a salary increase, and I’m going to go to bat for him if the boss says no.
have the upper hand cards have a better chance of winning or succeeding The Blues have the upper hand in the tournament, because none of their players is injured.
hit below the belt martial arts do or say something that is very unfair or cruel Amanda was hitting below the belt when she called Adrian an unfit father.
hit a snag boating come up against a problem The renovations were going along great until we hit a snag with the carpet installation.
hold all the aces cards expected to win or succeed The children hold all the aces when it comes to the father-son baseball tournament.
the home stretch horse racing almost the end I think Alice’s pregnancy is in the home stretch.
hot shot (big shot) hunting a person who thinks they are the best Even though Luke only placed 20th in the ski race, he thinks he’s a hot shot.
jump the gun track start too early I guess I jumped the gun by buying Pam and Steve a wedding gift. They called off the engagement.
keep one’s head above water swimming try not to fall behind in work or other duties We are so busy during the tourist season I can barely keep my head above water.
learn the ropes sailing understand new things The first week on the job you will just be learning the ropes.
let her rip boating go ahead now Okay, here are the keys to your new car. Let her rip!
level playing field any field sport everyone has an equal chance The spelling bee is a level playing field because all of the kids are in grade nine.
long shot hunting a very difficult thing to accomplish Jim thinks we can afford the house, but I think it’s a long shot.
make the cut any sport be chosen to be part of a team or group I didn’t get a second interview, so I’m pretty sure I won’t make the cut.
neck and neck horse racing to be in a close tie with someone George and Stan are neck and neck in the hockey pool. Either of them could win the money.
no sweat any sport no problem I told Lily it was no sweat for us to babysit next weekend.
not playing with a full deck (of cards) cards not having full brain capacity I think Jerry was still drunk at work on Sunday because he wasn’t playing with a full deck.
not up to par golf not good enough for a job or position I’m afraid your resume isn’t up to par for the engineering position.
to be off base baseball not making a fair or true remark You were way off base when you said Bill needed to lose weight.
on target darts doing the right thing to succeed We are on target to meet our budget this month.
on the ball baseball ready and able The new receptionist is really on the ball when it comes to answering the phone.
out in left field baseball nowhere near being true, nowhere near doing something correctly All of the students laughed when Joe gave an answer that was out in left field.
out of someone’s league team sport not as good as someone I’d like to date Maria, but I’m afraid I’m out of her league.
par for the course golf an expected circumstance Waiting in line is par for the course at Christmas time.
plenty of other fish in the sea fishing there are many other men and women to date I know you still love Jack, but remember there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
race against time track there is almost no time left to accomplish something It’s a race against time to find a kidney donor for my cousin.
settle a score with someone any sport get even with a person after a previous battle My brother wants to settle the score with that guy who stole my wallet.
shot in the dark hunting a guess I was lucky to win the quiz. All my answers were shots in the dark.
skate on thin ice skating do something risky, take a chance You’re skating on thin ice by not sending in your college application before now.
start the ball rolling ball sports begin something Please can everyone be seated so we can start the ball rolling.
step up to the plate do the honourable thing, take It’s time you stepped up to the plate and apologized for
baseball Responsibility your mistake.
take a rain check baseball accept at a later time Sorry, I can’t go to the movies today, but I’d love to take a rain check.
take sides any sport choose a person or group to support I hate to take sides, but I think Jerry is right about the paint colour.
take the bull by the horns bull fighting accept the challenge and try your hardest Even though this new job will mean relocating, I think you should take the bull by the horns for once.
take the wind out of one’s sails sailing make someone feel deflated I think I took the wind out of Angela’s sails when I told her she was a terrible singer.
throw in the towel boxing give up If they don’t accept our offer this time we are going to throw in the towel and look at houses elsewhere.
time out any sport Break Let’s take some time out and grab a coffee.
three strikes and you’re out baseball you only get three chances The school’s no smoking policy is three strikes and you’re out.
two strikes against baseball you only have one chance remaining Nancy is going to be fired in no time. She already has two strikes against her for coming in late.
under the table gambling Illegally I don’t have a work visa, so they have to pay me under the table.
win hands down gambling easy victory The other team was missing half of its players. We won hands down.

You may also read:

Leave a Reply